Makaya McCraven

Deciphering The Message
(Blue Note)

Makaya McCraven’s major jazz label debut presents yet another chapter in Blue Note Records’ mixing with DJ culture. Deciphering The Message picks up where the label’s last big nod left off — 2020’s Blue Note Re: Imagined. That recording showcased some of the U.K.’s brightest young jazz guns. McCraven’s no stranger to the concept either. With What’s New Again (XL, 2020), he supplied some biting beats and warm modern soundscapes to Gil Scott-Heron’s posthumous 2011 album I’m New Here.

But McCraven widens the remix/reimagination arc to harken back to the label’s earliest foray into DJ culture. The opening cut — a rugged makeover of Hank Mobley’s “A Slice Of The Top,” introduced by Birdland’s iconic emcee, Pee Wee Marquette — could have been featured on Us3’s 1993 acid-jazz classic Hand On The Torch. McCraven approaches the Mobley gem with velvet gloves, underscoring the opening melodic chorus and tenor sax-trumpet improvisational exchanges with boom-bap looping. Except for adding live drumming, his take here is similar to Us3’s “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),” which also featured Marquette.

By recruiting some of McCraven’s finest contemporaries, such as vibraphonist Joel Ross, alto saxophonist Greg Ward and trumpeter Marquis Hill, Deciphering The Message connects the dots between previous jazz/hip-hop hybrids with the Blue Note catalog — notably Madlib’s blunted Shades Of Blue (2003) and the compilation Blue Note Revisited (2004) — with its latest iterations.

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